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Air Force lifestyle and performance medicine champion retires

  • Published
  • By Maristela Romero
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs

Having championed Defense-wide impacts to primary care standards and policies for the Military Health System and global improvements in lifestyle and performance medicine, Col. Mary Anne Kiel retired from the Air Force in a ceremony at the Military Women’s Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery on May 8, 2024.

Kiel served as chair of the Lifestyle and Performance Medicine Working Group, chief of Air Force Medical Home, Air Force Medical Agency at Falls Church, Virginia, and chair of the Defense Health Agency Primary Clare Clinical Community, roles in which she led service representatives in developing primary care standards and policies for the Military Health System. Prior to these positions, Kiel was chief of medical staff at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, where she advised senior leaders on healthcare management.

With two decades of experience in military medicine and double certifications in pediatrics and lifestyle and performance medicine, her leadership advanced the quality of care across 455 medical facilities serving 3.5 million patients while championing the use of evidence-based lifestyle practices to reframe the approach to optimizing health for Airman and Guardian readiness and life after military service.

During the retirement ceremony, Brig. Gen. James Parry, Office of the Air Force Surgeon General Medical Operations acting director, presented Kiel with her certificate of retirement and letters of appreciation along with a commemorative pin that her husband, Chris Kiel, bestowed upon her in the presence of family and colleagues.

“I’m very proud to have had the opportunity to be in service with such an outstanding individual,” Parry said, reflecting on Kiel’s impact within the Military Health System and overseas. “She has not only influenced the United States military, but other nations are looking at what she has done with lifestyle and performance medicine, Lithuania being one. They want to incorporate a lot of what she has been doing into their military. As for U.S. Air Force medics, we will keep on pushing lifestyle and performance medicine to get ready for great power competition.”

The ceremony concluded with Kiel voicing her gratitude for her unforeseen military career and work alongside medics toward the mission of readiness and resilience. Initially, she had not planned on joining the service despite growing up with a father who served in the Air Force.

“It wasn’t until I was in the midst of medical school when I realized how much I actually missed that camaraderie of our military community that I had grown up with,” she shared. “This team and community are what really propelled me to stay with it for the last couple of decades. The team rallies and gets things done.”

Kiel started her medical career as a pediatrician, and her passion evolved to include primary care for Airmen, Guardians and their families through her role as chair of the U.S. Air Force Lifestyle and Performance Medicine Working Group from 2020 to 2024. Her background in pediatrics solidified her commitment to improving lifestyle habits as a successful preventive method to achieve long-term, holistic care.

Lifestyle and performance medicine is a subspecialty that remedies health concerns at its source with incremental changes to stress management, nutrition, sleep, physical activity, social connection, and avoidance of excessive tobacco and alcohol consumption.

Leading the working group was one of her proudest achievements. Kiel and 20 core members, primarily Air Force physicians, passionate about health and wellness chartered the working group six years ago. Since then, its membership has grown to more than 350 healthcare professionals including representatives from each of the services, the Defense Health Agency, Department of Veteran Affairs, and other government employees. In addition to making a significant impact within the Department of Defense, Kiel led the inaugural Joint L&PM Warfighter Summit with the Lithuanian Armed Forces where she educated 315 trainees from eight nations under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. For their efforts, Kiel’s working group earned the 2023 Distinguished Special Recognition Award from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

“We saw change over the last four years in people’s mindsets around their own personal health and the way they can help patients achieve their health goals,” Kiel said. "Often in the health professional area, we’re bogged down with the responsibility of addressing all our patients’ needs. We are taught to be selfless and to do our utmost for the benefit of the patient.”

Lifestyle medicine practitioners have seen significant transformations among beneficiaries prescribed with lifestyle interventions as part of their treatment for chronic conditions.

“My hope is that within another three to five years, there will be a dramatic shift in primary care as far as not only being able to do their best to care for their patients,” Kiel said. “But also to be their best selves as healthcare professionals and be that resilient workforce that we need in our military healthcare system.”

As a champion of the medical specialty, Kiel organized and led the inaugural L&PM summit in February 2024, convening healthcare professionals who are proponents of Lifestyle and Performance Medicine.

One of the most challenging yet rewarding moments of her career was drawing senior leader attention toward the medical specialty and securing their continued support.

“It’s hard when you’re asking people to think about something in a different way. And to approach something when you’re already scant on time,” she said. “One of the reasons we were able to accomplish so much is because we had really passionate working group members who are all doing this out of the goodness of their heart in addition to their regular jobs.”

During her retirement ceremony, Parry said Kiel personally influenced his life with her passion for implementing healthier lifestyle practices into daily routine, especially in nutrition.

“It’s those little things about changing our perception about lifestyle and performance medicine because we need to be healthier. A lot of what Colonel Kiel has done has shown the merit of eating healthier.”

With burnout ever present among healthcare professionals, which Kiel highlighted in her retirement speech, she emphasized the impact that lifestyle intervention in medical practice can have on wellbeing of the patient and the provider.

“My goal with lifestyle and performance medicine is to help give back some passion and years to our healthcare professionals who are experiencing such a challenge every single day doing the grind, especially in primary care,” Kiel said. “We were taught from the get-go to give ourselves every single day to take care of all our patients. And that is truly important. That’s why we go into medicine. But it shouldn’t be to the expense of ourselves as humans, such that we have nothing left to give or nothing left to live for once we’re done with military service.”

Kiel plans to continue advocating for lifestyle medicine for both military and civilian communities.

“My hope is that our healthcare professional team and our military members at large will recognize this, and it’ll be a cultural shift that we take care of ourselves every day as a foundation, that we’re ready and prepared at a moment’s notice. That’s what brings us the resiliency we need.”